Homing in on Behavioral Health

Just over two years ago, we posted a piece on this site highlighting findings from a Disability Management Employer Coalition study on behavioral health in the workplace.

The DMEC’s research painted what HRE described at the time as a “somewhat incongruous picture.” For example, more than 60 percent of the 314 employers polled said the stigma surrounding mental health issues at work had either stayed the same or gotten worse in the past two years. On the other hand, 37 percent of those same companies said that management had “become more open” about assessing behavioral health in that time. In 2012, 25 percent of respondents said the same, according to DMEC.

Here we are in 2017, and the findings of a new Willis Towers Watson survey suggest that the picture is starting to come into focus for employers, the overwhelming majority of which say they plan to keep upping their efforts to address mental health issues among the workforce.

The firm’s 2017 Behavioral Health Study, which polled 314 U.S. employers, finds 88 percent of respondents saying behavioral health is an important priority for their organizations over the next three years.

More specifically, 63 percent count locating more timely and effective treatment of behavioral health issues as an area of primary concern in that same span. Sixty-one percent said the same about integrating behavioral health case management with medical and disability case management. In addition, 56 percent said their organizations are concentrating on providing better support for complex behavioral health conditions, and 52 percent of employers are looking to expand access to care for mental health issues between now and the year 2020.

Beyond increasing and improving the level of care received by those with behavioral health issues, the survey also found that organizations intend to address the root causes of these issues. More than one third of respondents (36 percent) say they have already addressed and taken steps to reduce stress and improve resiliency, while 47 percent are planning or considering action designed to do so over the next three years. Twenty-eight percent currently provide educational programs that touch on the warning signs of behavioral health issues or distress, and 41 percent are planning or considering such programs.

These employers are also showing more interest in mobile apps to help employees manage behavioral health needs, according to Willis Towers Watson. The survey finds the percentage of companies including mobile applications in their service offerings on the way up. For instance, 11 percent of those surveyed already offer stress reduction or resiliency apps; a number that is expected to increase to 38 percent within three years, the study finds. And, while just 7 percent provide apps designed to help curb anxiety, 31 percent of respondents said they plan to offer such applications between now and 2020.

However they plan to reach workers with mental health needs, “employers are concerned about behavioral health issues because of the impact on costs, employee health and productivity, and workplace safety,” says Julie Stone, a national healthcare practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement.

“The seriousness of the issues—both for employers and employees—has led to a deeper understanding of the problem and greater resolve to take action.”

Employers are now more committed than ever, says Stone, to “improving access to treatment, providing employees with better coordination of care across various health programs and reducing the stigma that could be associated with behavioral health through educational programs.”